WALNUT CREEK -- Despite misgivings from some members, the City Council have approved a $62,000 loan to the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association to help pay for the promotional "re-branding" of downtown, and advance a possible formation of a property-based improvement district.
The improvement district, if approved by property owners, would be a source of funding for the business association. As its first step, the business association has hired a consulting firm, and is studying the feasibility of the improvement district and discussing with property owners whether they would support it. The district would assess a yearly fee on downtown businesses that would fund the business association's re-branding and downtown improvement projects.
Phase II for the improvement district includes analyzing an opinion survey of all downtown business owners, and then starting a petition process. If more than 50 percent of those property owners -- their votes weighted according to how much property they own -- sign the petition, then a ballot would be sent to downtown property owners. The association hopes to put the improvement district's formation to a vote this year.
Mayor Cindy Silva and Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson both expressed concern at last week's vote, saying the city isn't usually in the business of giving out loans. Before they voted for the proposed loan, Silva and Lawson requested that the loan interest rate not be locked at 1 percent, but tied to the market rate. Also, Lawson requested that the mayor -- not the city manager -- be able to review the final loan documents and sign off on the terms. Silva and Lawson also asked that the terms of default be clearly defined before the mayor signs the paperwork.
The council voted unanimously for the proposal after the amendments were made.
"I think it's imperative that we once and for all find out whether the property owners of downtown are able to come together in a substantive way on their economic future," Silva said.
Supporters of an improvement district in Walnut Creek point to success stories such as Oakland's Temescal district, where funds from an improvement district helped spark business and residential revitalization efforts in 2004. Oakland saw a dramatic increase in sales tax receipts from that district from 2004 to 2008.
The mission statement of the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association is to work with its members, partners, and community to promote and enhance downtown business vitality. In addition to the re-branding effort, the association also helps put on festivals and seasonal events such as downtown trick-or-treat and Walnut Creek on Ice.
The council also voted to reallocate $38,000 of unused funding from a previous agreement to the association. Those funds will help implement some of the association's downtown branding efforts.